Astronomers unlikely victims of Mexico's violence, crime
Large Millimeter Telescope stands on the summit of the Sierra Negra peak
near the town of Atzitzintla, Mexico. Astronomers have become the latest
victims of Mexico's violence with activities at the observatory being
reduced because its staff has suffered so many crimes while traveling to
the remote mountain site, researcher said Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. (AP
Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)
Mexico City (AP)
- Astronomers have become the latest victims of Mexico's violence with
activities at two observatories being reduced because their staff
suffered crimes while travelling to the remote mountain sites,
researchers said Thursday, Feb. 7.
The problems occurred near the Alfonso Serrano Large Millimeter Telescope,
or LMT, in the central Mexico state of Puebla. It is the world's largest
single-dish steerable millimeter-wavelength telescope and is jointly run
by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Mexico's national
institute of astrophysics.
LMT "has reduced its scientific activities to a minimum level due to the
security problems in the region surrounding the telescope," said
university spokesman Ed Blaguszewski.
"The University of Massachusetts Amherst has suspended travel of UMass
personnel to the LMT site, and we have retained security consultants to
advise us on security risks in the area and strategies to deal with
these risks," he said.
Mexico's astrophysics institute said in a statement that "the unsafe
conditions that prevail in the region are well known and public."
The other affected site is the HAWC gamma ray and cosmic ray observation
facility. The HWAC is an international collaboration between more than
30 institutions in Mexico, the United States, and Europe.
Both are located on the Sierra Negra volcano near the Pico de Orizaba,
Mexico's highest peak, with its clear air and lack of nearby light
The area, around Puebla state's border with neighboring Veracruz, has long
been the scene of criminal activity by the now-fragmented Zetas drug
cartel. But in recent years it has also been hit by violence associated
with gangs that drill taps into government fuel pipelines to steal
gasoline and diesel.
None of the researchers specified exactly what kind of crimes they had
suffered, but local media have reported that people travelling to the
Sierra Negra have been carjacked and robbed on roads leading to the
Astronomy Professor F. Peter Schloerb, the director of the LMT office for
UMass Amherst, declined to give specifics but said "we had just one
incident that precipitated our recent decision."
"No one was harmed, and I don't think that we at LMT are particularly
singled out by the criminals," Schloerb wrote. "Nevertheless, we do feel
that it is important to review the situation carefully before returning
to normal operations."
A Puebla state official who was not authorized to be quoted by name said
the only serious incident he was aware of occurred in December, when a
person travelling to work at the telescope suffered a carjacking on his
way to the site.
The state police have since said they will provide escorts for astronomers
and telescope personnel.
Mexico has suffered a rising tide of homicides, which peaked at 33,341 in
2018, a 15.5 increase over 2017.
The violence has affected many areas of public life; 26 priests were killed
in Mexico between 2012 and 2018, and even environmental inspectors have
been killed after mistakenly stumbling on drug labs. But to date
scientists had not been affected.
January was officially Australia’s hottest month on record
sweltered through its hottest month on record in January and the summer
of extremes continues with wildfires razing the drought-parched south
while expanses of the tropical north are flooded. (AP Photo/Andy
Canberra, Australia (AP) - Australia
sweltered through its hottest month on record in January and the summer
of extremes continued with wildfires razing the drought-parched south
and flooding in expanses of the tropical north.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology confirmed the
January record last week as parts of the northern hemisphere had record
Australia’s scorching start to 2019 - in which the
mean temperature across the country for the first time exceeded 30
degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) - followed Australia’s
third-hottest year on record. Only 2005 and 2013 were warmer than 2018,
which ended with the hottest December on record.
Heat-stressed bats dropped dead from trees by the
thousands in Victoria State and bitumen roads melted in New South Wales
during heatwaves last month.
New South Wales officials say drought-breaking rains
are needed to improve the water quality in a stretch of a major river
system where hundreds of thousands of fish died in two mass deaths
during January linked to excessive heat. A South Australia state
government report found that too much water had been drained from the
river system for farming under a management plan that did not take into
account the impact of climate change on the river’s health.
The South Australian capital Adelaide on Jan. 24
recorded the hottest day ever for a major Australian city - a searing
46.6 C (115.9 F).
On the same day, the South Australian town of Port
Augusta, population 15,000, recorded 49.5 C (121.1 F) - the highest
maximum anywhere in Australia last month.
Bureau senior climatologist Andrew Watkins described
January’s heat as unprecedented.
“We saw heatwave conditions affect large parts of the
country through most of the month, with records broken for both duration
and also individual daily extremes,” Watkins said in a statement.
The main contributor to the heat was a persistent
high-pressure system over the Tasman Sea between Australia and New
Zealand that blocked cold fronts from reaching southern Australia.
Rainfall was below-average for most of the country,
but the monsoonal trough has brought flooding rains to northern
Queensland State in the past week, leading to a disaster declaration
around the city of Townsville.
Queensland’s flooded Daintree River reached a
118-year high in January.
Emergency services also reported rescuing 28 people
from floodwaters in the area.
“The vast bulk of the population will not have
experienced this type of event in their lifetime,” State Disaster
Coordinator Bob Gee told reporters, referring to the extraordinary
Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill described the torrential
rain as a “one-in-100-year event” that had forced authorities to release
water from the city dam. The water release would worsen flooding in
low-lying suburbs, but would prevent the Ross River from breaking its
In the southern island state of Tasmania, authorities
are hoping rain will douse more than 40 fires that have razed more than
187,000 hectares (720 square miles) of forest and farmland. Dozens of
houses have been destroyed by fires and flooding in recent weeks.
The Climate Council, an Australian independent
organization formed to provide authoritative climate change information
to the public, said the January heat record showed the government needed
to curb Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions which have increased during
each of the past four years.
“Climate change is cranking up the intensity of
extreme heat, and January’s record-breaking month is part of a sharp,
long-term upswing in temperatures driven primarily from the burning of
fossil fuels,” the council’s acting chief executive Martin Rice said in
Toshiba unveils robot to probe melted Fukushima nuclear fuel
Corp.’s energy systems unit group manager Jun Suzuki shows a
remote-controlled melted fuel probe device at its facility in Yokohama,
near Tokyo, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Mari Yamaguchi)
Yokohama, Japan (AP) –
Toshiba Corp. unveiled a remote-controlled robot with tongs on Monday
that it hopes will be able to probe the inside of one of the three
damaged reactors at Japan’s tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant and grip
chunks of highly radioactive melted fuel.
The device is designed to slide
down an extendable 11-meter (36-foot) long pipe and touch melted fuel
inside the Unit 2 reactor’s primary containment vessel. The reactor was
built by Toshiba and GE.
An earlier probe carrying a camera
captured images of pieces of melted fuel in the reactor last year, and
robotic probes in the two other reactors have detected traces of damaged
fuel, but the exact location, contents and other details remain largely
Toshiba’s energy systems unit said
experiments with the new probe planned in February are key to
determining the proper equipment and technologies needed to remove the
fuel debris, the most challenging part of the decommissioning process
expected to take decades.
The three reactors at the Fukushima
plant suffered core meltdowns after a massive 2011 earthquake and
tsunami damaged key cooling systems.
In last year’s probe, a camera
developed by Toshiba Energy Systems & Solutions Corp. and the
International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning found large
amounts of deposits in that area, including parts that resembled pebbles
The 30-centimeter (12-inch) long
robot unveiled Monday will carry a radiation dosimeter, thermometer, LED
lights, a camera and a pair of tongs as it slowly slides down from a
pipe. The probe, attached by a cable on its back, is to dangle from the
pipe and descend to the bottom of the reactor vessel’s pedestal, a
structure directly below the core from which the melted fuel fell.
Toshiba plans to use the new device
to touch and grip the deposits with the tongs, which can hold a lump as
wide as 8 centimeters (3 inches) weighing up to two kilograms (4.4
pounds), to investigate its hardness and other details, said Jun Suzuki,
a Toshiba ESS group manager for the project.
“Until now we have only seen those
deposits, and we need to know whether they will break off and can be
picked up and taken out,” Suzuki said. “Touching the deposits is
important so we can make plans to sample the deposits, which is a next
The probe will mainly examine the
fuel debris’ physical condition rather than its radioactive components
or other details which require actual sampling and safe storage.
“We are taking one step at a time,”
said Tsutomu Takeuchi, a Toshiba ESS senior manager for the Fukushima
decommissioning project. “First we’ll find out if those deposits can be
picked up.” If the device is unable to lift anything, that’s also a key
finding, he said. In that case, they will need a cutting device to tear
off a sample piece.
TEPCO and government officials plan
to determine methods for removing the melted fuel from each of the three
damaged reactors later this year so they can begin the process in 2021.
Science Says: A big space crash likely made Uranus lopsided
made from video provided by Durham University astronomy researcher Jacob
Kegerreis shows a computer simulation generated by the open-source code
SWIFT that depicts an object crashing into the planet Uranus. Kegerreis says
the detailed simulations show that the collision and reshaping of Uranus 3
billion to 4 billion years ago likely caused the massive planet to tilt
about 90 degrees on its side. (Jacob A. Kegerreis/Durham University via AP)
Washington (AP) -
Uranus is a lopsided oddity, the only planet to spin on its side. Scientists
now think they know how it got that way: It was pushed over by a rock at
least twice as big as Earth.
simulations show that an enormous rock crashed into the seventh planet from
the sun, said Durham University astronomy researcher Jacob Kegerreis, who
presented his analysis at a large earth and space science conference last
Uranus is unique in the
solar system. The massive planet tilts about 90 degrees on its side, as do
its five largest moons. Its magnetic field is also lopsided and doesn’t go
out the poles like ours does, said NASA chief scientist Jim Green. It also
is the only planet that doesn’t have its interior heat escape from the core.
It has rings like Saturn, albeit faint ones.
“It’s very strange,”
said Carnegie Institution planetary scientist Scott Sheppard, who wasn’t
part of the research.
simulations show that the collision and reshaping of Uranus - maybe
enveloping some or all of the rock that hit it - happened in a matter of
hours, Kegerreis said. He produced an animation showing the violent crash
and its aftermath.
It’s also possible that
the big object that knocked over Uranus is still lurking in the solar system
too far for us to see, said Green. It would explain some of the orbits of
the planet and fit with a theory that a missing planet X is circling the sun
well beyond Pluto, he said.
Green said it’s
possible that a lot of smaller space rocks - the size of Pluto - pushed
Uranus over, but Kegerreis’ research and Sheppard point to a single huge
unknown suspect. Green said a single impact “is the right thinking.”
The collision happened
3 billion to 4 billion years ago, likely before the larger moons of Uranus
formed. Instead there was a disk of stuff that would eventually come
together to form moons. And when that happened, Uranus’ odd tilt acted like
a gravity tidal force pushing those five large moons to the same tilt,
It also would have
created an icy shell that kept Uranus’ inner heat locked in, Kegerreis said.
(Uranus’ surface is minus 357 degrees, or minus 216 Celsius.)
Ice is key with Uranus
and its neighbor Neptune. A little more than a decade ago, NASA reclassified
those two planets as “ice giants,” no longer lumping them with the other
large planets of the solar system, the gas giants Saturn and Jupiter.
Pluto, which is tiny,
farther from the sun and not even officially a planet anymore, has been
explored more than Uranus and Neptune. They only got brief flybys by Voyager
2, the space probe that entered interstellar space last month.
Uranus and Neptune “are
definitely the least understood planets,” Sheppard said.
But that may change. A
robotic probe to one or both of those planets was high up on the last
wish-list from top planetary scientists and likely will be at or near the
top of the next list.
Uranus was named for
the Greek god of the sky. Its name often generates juvenile humor when it is
wrongly pronounced like a body part. (It’s correctly pronounced YUR’-uh-nus.)
“No one laughs when I
say Uranus,” NASA’s Green said. “They have to mispronounce it to get the